Integrative medicine represents a transformative shift in how we relate to health and illness. The practice of integrative medicine dictates that doctors move away from the traditional approach of addressing illness as one isolated issue, instead looking at the patient as a whole system. Doctors address patient’s physical and mental issues through a more holistic plan that often includes nutrition counseling, meditation techniques, diet changes, and exercise. Integrative medicine is quickly moving its way to the mainstream. Speakers at Revitalize, a conference in Tucson hosted by Mindbodygreen.com included Ivy League medical school graduates, highly successful entrepreneurs, and leading scholars. Each speaker had been personally transformed by the shift to integrative medicine, either as a practitioner, a patient, or both.
The main theme of the summit was clear: Eat clean and focus on both mental and physical exercise. Focus on the power of plants and recognize that food has evolved faster than our bodies. Processed foods and GMOs are more than our bodies can handle. We’re more sedentary and eat less nutritious foods. This imbalance is at the root of many of our health problems.
Many doctors now prescribe diet changes as the first step to recovery. “If you eat crap, you feel like crap,” says Dr. Hyman, New York Times bestselling author and head of The Ultra Wellness Center. Even slight changes in diet can reverse the symptoms, especially in the case of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimotos thyroiditis, and Multiple Sclerosis. Diet changes have huge effects on diabetes, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema and rosacea.
The recent rise in autoimmune diseases presents a real opportunity to embrace healing through change in diet. The food we eat today has been so altered; wheat and other grains look very different from how they did even 10 years ago. Small changes can cause devastating immune responses from those who can’t tolerate the new strains. And, according to so many speakers at the summit, small changes in diet can have equally positive healing effects.
I was especially inspired by the story of Dr. Terry Wahls, professor of medicine at University of Iowa. In 2000, Dr. Wahls was diagnosed with Multiple Scerosis. Her body deteriorated so rapidly; she was quickly unable to move and had to use a zero gravity wheel chair for five years. She even tried chemotherapy to slow down her disease. Although her doctors told her she’d be bedridden forever, she began researching nutrients important to brain health. She started a supplement regimen and started eating according to Paleo principles. By 2008, Dr. Wahl’s had no need of her wheelchair — in fact, she walked two miles a day and recently biked an 18-mile course. Dr. Wahls is now is studying integrative medicine with a specific focus on diet and brain-related disease.
Of course, food isn’t the only pathway into integrative healing. We heard from Good Morning America anchor Dan Harris, a skeptic and previous critic of “new age” medicine. He spoke about how he had suffered from depression and drug abuse. After having a panic attack on national TV, he found meditation, which he says “saved his life.” Now, he firmly believes that mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Video here.
Just a few days turned this skeptic into a believer. It’s clear to me that integrative medicine is the way to face our nation’s health crises in an effective and proactive way. We need to carefully consider everything that goes into our bodies. This is not just about obesity or weight related illnesses. This is about much more. To regain both our mental and physical wellness, we must recognize that our bodies are whole and complete, and no health issue exists in a void. The tools are there. We just need to move forward and use them.